About an hour and a half from here, there's a resort and campground that charges you to play in the dirt. Crazy, right?
But, what if I told you that the very dirt I speak of held the glittering promise of diamonds (er, "diamonds").
Well, then... you might just be willing to dig a little deeper.
The Herkimer Diamond Mines, located in Herkimer, NY, is a family resort and campground that, along with kayaking and camping, offers its visitors the chance to be a miner. My ideas of mining are limited to images of canaries in cages and pudgy little men "whistling while they work," so I really didn't think this was going to be as fun as it was. And it was fun.
Upon arrival at the mines, you pay a $10 dollar admission fee (ages 4 and under are free), which entitles you to an all-day prospecting wrist band, hammer, Ziploc backs (for your booty -- you get to keep whatever you find) and museum entrance. You are then encouraged to watch a short instructional video about the mines which gets you excited about all the Herkimer diamonds (a type of quartz crystal) you are about to find. (A family in the video walked away with thousands of dollars worth of diamonds in one trip. To my chagrin, those results were not typical).
There are three mines for you to choose from. Looking back, I probably would have chosen the ones with the more experienced miners in it, but we opted for mine #3, which was farther away from the crowds. (Fewer people = more diamonds? Not necessarily.)
The mines themselves are basically open, rocky fields where you can pick a spot, hunker down, and start digging, hammering, sifting -- or, in my kids case, whining -- until you find your first diamond. Then the fun really begins as diamond fever sets in and you start imagining what you are going to do with all your riches. Yup, it's pretty exhilarating... for a couple of hours anyway. Or until reality sets in.
After you are done mining, you can take all your riches back to the gift shop where they offer free appraisals. They don't buy the diamonds from you, but you can make jewelry and other keepsakes while you are there. Our findings were pretty meager, but we did walk away with a collection of gems appraised at $50 -- not too shabby.
The day we were there saw a diverse crowd making their way to the mines. A SUNY bus trip, Boy Scouts, families with kids. And then there were the more dedicated miners, who had obviously been there before and had returned even more prepared with chisels, eye protection and knee pads. Hint: hang around those guys, they know what they are doing.
The Herkimer Diamond Mine is affiliated with a KOA campground/resort. There are some really nice campsites and cabins along the river and right across the street from the mines. The summer calendar is filled with outdoor activities. There's also a pool and a nice restaurant within walking distance.
The drive out there was absolutely breathtaking and can only be more beautiful now with fall in full swing. There are also a couple of family farms along the way that you may want to check out.
The mines are open every day until November 1st, so you still have some time to get out there and make your fortune.
Dawn is the author of Small-bany, a blog about local stuff to do for kids and parents.
Herkimer Diamond Mines
4601 State Route 28
Herkimer, NY 13350
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